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Endangered falcons raising young prompt critical cliff closures in Western North Carolina

Peregrine falcons raise their chicks and fledglings on cliffs in eyries.
Anna Hesser/NC Wildlife Commission
Peregrine falcons raise their chicks and fledglings on cliffs in eyries.

The U.S. Forest Service has restricted activity on several cliff and rock face areas in the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests where threatened peregrine falcons are nesting.

Each year, state and federal agencies work with nonprofit Carolina Climbers Coalition (CCC) to monitor nesting sites, known as eyries, and protect the birds while also allowing reasonable access for climbers.
 
“This decade-long partnership has resulted in better communication about the need for closure areas and more accurate decisions on closure locations. We’ve worked together to use education and communication as tools for effective recreation management,” Mike Reardon, Executive Director of the CCC said in a press release.

Peregrine falcons, also known as “duck hawks”, were first listed as an endangered species in 1970 due to effects from pollutants such as DDT, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Peregrine falcons are also known as “duck hawks.”
Jennifer Rowe/NC Wildlife Commission
Peregrine falcons are also known as “duck hawks.”

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission began to reintroduce peregrine falcons into the wild and re-establish the population across North Carolina in 1984. After mixed success during the early 90s, the population increased consistently by 1997.

Currently, biologists find between 10 and 13 nest sites occupied by a breeding pair. They continue to monitor nesting sites with the help of volunteers including the CCC.

While many peregrine populations have recovered from their historic low numbers, disturbance from human activity near nesting sites remains a threat to the falcons in North Carolina. The climbing route closures give the nesting pair a needed buffer while allowing climbing in other areas.

“The closures work,” Chris Kelly, a Wildlife Diversity Biologist with NCWRC said in a press release. “Climbers have been involved in self-managing their activities with respect to closures.”

An NC Wildlife Resource Commission nest camera shows two falcons at their nest within a local cliff.
NC Wildlife Resource Commission nest camera
An NC Wildlife Resource Commission nest camera shows two falcons at their nest within a local cliff.

The CCC-owned Laurel Knob has an active eyrie. In 2023, the eyrie in Dillard Canyon produced two fledglings - the most ever recorded on Laurel Knob, according to the coalition website.

“We are so grateful to the climbing and recreation community for their support in protecting this amazing species. It’s a great outcome when we can work together to manage all of the special resources on our Forests – for the humans and the wildlife that love it,” Jenifer Bunty, U.S. Forest Service Public Affairs Specialist, said.

The closures extend from Jan. 15 to Aug. 15, 2026 and including Pickens Nose (East Face) in Macon County; Whiteside Mountain in Jackson County; Looking Glass Rock (North Face) in Transylvania County; Buzzard’s Roost in Haywood County; Whiterock Cliff in Madison County; and others. Find more information here. There’s also more information at the CCC website.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.